17 Wild Facts About Horses

iStock / iStock

"A horse never runs so fast as when he has other horses to catch up and outpace." That's what Ovid said 2000 years ago—and American Pharoah just proved him right. We've depended on horses for thousands of years for more than just a heart-pounding race. Learning about these excellent equines is more than just horseplay.

1. Horses are pretty historical.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Cave art gives us the first documentation of horses, which were likely domesticated in Eurasia some 10,000 years ago. They appear in mythology from China to Greece and have been relied on for travel, farming, and other purposes by many cultures for thousands of years. Horses have also been involved in almost every documented war. 

2. There are hundreds of horse breeds.


Seriously. Hundreds. Depending on whom you ask, this list may or may not include ponies (which are usually under five feet tall). They can be divided into several groups, including light horses, heavy horses, and feral horses.

3. Horses have huge eyes.


Horses have the largest eyes of any mammal that lives on land

. They are capable of moving them independently and, because their eyes are on the sides of their head, they have nearly 360 degree vision. However, they have two blind spots—one directly in front of them, and one directly behind.

4. They have some unexpected relatives.

Getty Images

They're distantly related to rhinoceroses and tapirs. They're also related to donkeys and zebras.

5. Their hooves are sensitive.


A horse’s hooves are exceptionally complex and sensitive

. When the horse puts pressure on its hoof, the blood shoots up its leg into the veins, thus acting like a pump. In addition, the hooves are just like human nails. Their hooves have to be clipped over time in order to keep them from causing the horse any pain or discomfort.

6. Horses eat a lot ...

Getty Images

Horses eat different amounts depending on their size, but they're all good at putting it away. Like humans, horses will eat not only to meet daily needs, but because food tastes good. So they keep on eating. Some estimates say that a horse that weighs 1200 pounds can eat seven times its weight in a year.

7. But they can't vomit.


Because of their inability to regurgitate food, digestive problems can be fatal. Reportedly, colic is the leading cause of death in horses.

8. There's a history to the hand.


A hand unit is 4 inches, and yes, it was originally based on the male human hand. The measurement began in ancient Egypt and was standardized by King Henry VIII in 1541 as a simple way to measure horses. The hand unit is the length of either a clenched fist or the breadth of the hand (although there's some debate over whether or not a thumb should be included). Because most of the time a human hand isn't exactly 4 inches by any of those measures, we now have tape measures specially designed to measure horse height and weight in both hands and centimeters. 

9. Horses are emotional creatures.


Horses are capable of expressing their emotions through their facial expressions, ears, and nostrils. They are also highly perceptive to human emotions and tend to mirror them. Thus, if you’re in a good mood, your horse will most likely be amiable and easier to handle.

10. The ribbons on their tails mean something.


If you see a red ribbon on a horse's tail, you should stay back: It means the horse kicks. Red isn't the only color you might see, though. A white ribbon means a horse is for sale, a pink ribbon that it's a mare, and a blue or yellow ribbon that it's a stallion. A green ribbon tells you a horse is younger and probably inexperienced.

11. Most horses are domestic.


However, there are feral horses out there whose ancestors were tamed animals. For example, North American mustangs are the descendants of Iberian horses brought over by Spanish explorers more than 400 years ago.

The Przewalski’s horse is the only remaining truly wild horse. The breed has never been tamed and—before its population dwindled—it used to exist between Eastern Europe and Asia. It is currently on the list of critically endangered animals, as there are only 1500 left in zoos and breeding facilities.

12. A knight likely had many different horses.


To be a knight in feudal England, you had to be born into a royal family or earn the honor in battle. That's usually how knights afforded to have several horses for several different reasons. The strongest horses would likely be warhorses, whereas smaller or weaker horses would be used for travel or general purposes.

13. Horses barely sleep.